Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Immoral Mr. Teas (5 Stars)

This short film was a revolution in cinema when it was released in 1959. It was the first film in America featuring nudity to be shown in normal cinemas, rather than in seedy backstreet sex cinemas. It could be asked what happened, why this film was given special rights. After watching only a few minutes of the film the answer becomes apparent. This isn't a nudity-for-the-sake-of-nudity film, it's made to high artistic standards, despite its small budget.

"The Immoral Mr. Teas" is a strikingly effective homage to the silent film era. There is no dialogue in the film, and the only voice we hear is the voiceover of a narrator, like the old movie tellers who improvised what they said during the showing of silent films, either explaining what was happening on screen or talking about something completely different.

The film is named after the leading actor, Bill Teas, who the narrator calls Willy. Maybe the film is misnamed. It should be called "The Innocent Mr. Teased". He's not a bad man in any way. He's an innocent man caught up in a world he can't handle. On the one hand there's modern technology, on the other hand there are modern women. The film bears a message which is repeated throughout most of Russ Meyer's films. Women in the modern world are strong and empowered, but this female empowerment expresses itself in cruelty. We even see this in the action of the young girl who lives next door to him. When Willy walks away after giving her back a toy she's dropped she throws a stone at his head.

Mr. Teas is a voyeur, but Russ Meyer dispenses with the traditional notion that voyeurs are predators who spy on women. Here we see the voyeur as a victim. Willy works as a bicycle delivery man, and his work brings him into regular contact with three women: a dental nurse, a secretary and a barmaid. All three wear low-cut tops, and they flaunt their breasts at him while totally ignoring him. He sits staring at them for minutes on end without getting a reaction, positive or negative. Realising something is wrong he goes fishing at the weekend to be alone, but even there he isn't safe. The whole lake is deserted, but a woman arrives who wants to sunbathe next to him. She even makes poor little Willy move to make room for her. When she takes her bikini off Willy is so terrified that he jumps into the water to escape.

There's only one solution for Willy, who is in his late 40's and probably still a virgin. Willy sees a woman soliciting customers on the street and decides to pay for sex. After all, if he pays he's in control, isn't he? Wrong. Even the street girls are in on the act to bully Willy. After being paid the woman makes Willy strip, then he has to stand watching her iron his clothes. She knows he's a voyeur, and that's all he's allowed to be. He puts his freshly pressed clothes back on and goes home, just as unhappy as before.

Who is Mr. Teas? He is Russ Meyer's picture of the new man. Russ saw the times changing all around him. The post-WW2 years were a time when women were becoming more and more liberated. It wasn't a matter of women claiming equality with men, they were seeking a position of superiority. If they were beautiful they could flash their bodies at men to turn them into confused, bumbling idiots. If they weren't beautiful they could at least throw stones at men.

Russ isn't presenting this picture of a brave new world as a warning. He's showing it as something wonderful that we as men should embrace. Being controlled by women isn't such a bad thing, is it?

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